Once upon a time … at a spiritual retreat far, far, away from here … there was a rebel alliance of those who did not, could not, or would not see God in all His forms and graces, and therefore banded together to destroy the retreat for themselves and others.
While this overly dramatic opening was a gentle nod for my fellow Star Wars fans out there, for those who have no idea or can’t see where I’m going … please hold on … for this is the article that you were looking for.
You see, if you’ve ever been on anything, a vacation, a roller coaster ride, or in this case, a spiritual retreat, you know that you go with a set of defined expectations. These expectations drive and overshadow your experience, and ultimately limit your ability, whether good or bad, to fully enjoy, understand, or experience all that the event has to offer.
Case in point – on the above mentioned retreat, I was the acting spiritual director and was approached by one of the of the rebel alliance leaders, a real princess of a lady … OK … you got me … another Star Wars reference. However, while there was no rebel alliance, there was a young woman who was struggling with her own expectations of how God was going to “show up” for her … and by all outward and visible signs, it was clear that He had not.
“I don’t get it!” she exclaimed, “I don’t get why God hasn’t shown up for me!” From this point on she unfolded how she had, through a series of intentional steps of “setting aside” time for God to “show up,” failed to experience Him in any way. From prayer and meditation, to Sunday services, from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to now, a four-day spiritual retreat …she had gone out of her way to meet God … and as of yet ... He hadn’t “shown up.” “So,” she concluded, exhausted from the anger and frustration of telling her story, “I don’t get it. And honestly, I’m done trying.”
Now, while I’m certain you are anxious to hear my profound and life-giving response, I want to pause for a moment and ask you … have you been there? Do you feel her pain? Do you, or have you felt frustrated by God, who continues to not “show up” when you expect or need Him to? Yep … me too.
But you see, here’s the thing … here’s the catch … and here’s the profound and life-giving response that I gave … OK … you got me … that Jesus gives each of us in our passage today: What if the problem is not God’s, but ours? What if the expectations we place on God actually limit our ability to experience him?
Jesus put it this way, “What did you go out in the wilderness to look at? ... What did you go out to see?” Jesus was trying to explain that John was different than all the other prophets before him. John, like the others, called for repentance and the people’s return to God, but he was different in that he was also preparing the way for God’s return to us, not in a cloud, or burning bush, but in a humble carpenter who gave sight to the blind, life to the dead, and hope to the poor.
Therefore, the challenge that I proposed to our young rebel leader, is the same challenge that Christ gave and gives to each of us this Advent season and every day: Are you ready to receive God in the unexpected? Are you open to receiving God in the daily muck and mire, in the stables and mangers of your life? For it is when we open ourselves to seeing God in the every day, unexpected moments of grace and love, that God’s grace and love will open others to seeing God in the everyday, unexpected moments with and in you.